It is a debate that has enticed tennis fans for the better part of the last decade, yet even with the sudden and apparent demise of Roger Federer (Bio), the debate wages on about the greatest tennis player of all time.
While the discussion is entirely subjective, it is one that has captivated the tennis community and sent them into a heated frenzy as they attempt to calculate the competitor worthy of inheriting the title of “greatest ever.”
Nadal (Bio) fans are quick to remind us about the Spaniard’s dominant head-to-head advantage over the Swiss legend. The world no. 2 leads the head-to-head stats at 21-10 and has won four of their last five encounters – three of which ended in straight sets. Federer has only taken one set off Nadal in their three encounters in 2013 which is arguably his worst string of performances against his biggest rival.
There is no doubt that Nadal has taken a healthy lead in his historic rivalry with Federer, yet the debate has now shifted as to whether the Spaniard is capable of surpassing the Swiss no. 1 Grand Slam title record, thus further cementing his claim to the title as the greatest of all time. It is believable after all. Nadal currently holds 13 grand slam titles, including 8 French Open titles and counting. What makes this a remarkable feat is that he is 27-years-old and in his current form, is likely capable of winning several more.
Federer currently holds 77 career titles, which is 18 more than Nadal. This may seem like a significant gap, yet when you consider that the Spaniard won 9 titles (and counting) in 2013, surpassing Federer’s title wins is not out of his reach, particularly when the Swiss star has only managed one title this season.
While the trajectory currently favors the world no. 2, there is more than simply numbers to consider when debating the all-time greatest tennis star. Charisma, style, and grace are characteristics that come to mind when discussing the greatest players. They may not need all of these traits, yet they are always remembered for at least one of the above. Federer, dubbed ‘Swiss Maestro’ by adoring fans, is considered the most beautiful player in the history of the game. It is his grace and style on the court that captivated millions of fans for the past decade. His off-court attitude is exceptional as well; Federer dresses the part of a top class player, speaks like a perfect gentleman and is the perfect poster boy for sport. In many ways, it is this could arguably keep Rafa a step behind him in the debate.
For all of Nadal’s immense talent and world-class ability, he arguably does not have the incredible stage presence that Federer retains. While he is a visually appealing athlete, he lacks the verbal skills and the charisma to connect with his audience in any way other than through his on-court performances. Although neither Nadal no Federer are English speakers from birth, yet the language barrier is only truly significant with the Spaniard. While this in itself creates a certain aura of mystery and intrigue around Rafa yet it could also be limiting when attempting to establish loyal, passionate fans – particularly casual fans, who are not as accustomed to watching tennis on a regular basis.
There is no doubt that Rafael Nadal is capable of becoming the most decorated tennis star in the history, yet will he ever surpass Federer as the greatest player of all time? That will likely remain a heated dispute for many years to come.